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The Curse of Castor River

By Keira Kelly

Travel in my family is scarce. When I was four years old, we went to Florida for my

parents’ 10-year wedding anniversary. It wasn’t until I was sixteen that we took another trip, to

Hawaii, for my father’s 500th birthday (yes, he is that old). To be fair, I’ve never had the urge to

travel; this isn’t a complaint, more so an observation.

Opposed to large, expensive vacations, my family became accustomed to small, cheap

day trips. We’ve visited many natural sites in Missouri; Meramec Caverns, Huzzah Valley, Pickle

Springs Park, et cetera (NOTE: the previous list was only to be read in a strong Southern accent.

If you did not do so, please go back and reread). One of my favorite places to visit, though, is

called the Castor River Shut-Ins. A beautiful park, a cold river, and few people combine to make

a joyous summer day. We don’t visit often, but when we do, it is nothing if not entertaining.

My father is a large man. He’ll be the first to tell you himself that objectively, with no

judgment or rudeness, he is fat. Although this isn’t something that I’d normally disclose, the size

of my father is crucially relevant to the story of the first trip we took to Castor River.

I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but based on undated pictures, I’d say that I was

old enough to make fun of my dad but young enough to still feel guilty about it (nine). As I got

older, the guilt faded, mainly due to the fact that my dad is an unintentionally hilarious subject.

His age, size, and male disgustingness are always a laughing matter in my family.

Once upon a time, our living room began to stink so bad that nobody could stand to be in

there, convincing my mother that one of our three dogs had taken a giant shit that went

undetected by us for weeks. She searched and searched for the source of the smell until finally,

she discovered it: my dad’s dirty shorts. I wish I could say my description of the

stomach-churning smell is an exaggeration, but, unfortunately, it is not.

We threw the shorts away. In my opinion, they should have been burned.

Simply, my father is always the subject of teasing and ridicule. Perhaps it’s cruel to make

fun of the elderly, but when he feeds our guinea pigs a carrot and says, “go on, eat the banana,”

in complete seriousness, it’s difficult to restrain myself.

So, we’ll say that I was nine years old when we first made a trip to Castor River, making

my dad...old. The family (me, my dad, my mom, and my little brother, Nolan) drove an hour and

a half to the swimming destination, thrilled to get a taste of something new for our summer.

Upon arrival, we had a little bit of a walk through a muddy path to reach the shut-ins. Excitement

was buzzing in the air, as each of us are fans of swimming and nature.

I am and always have been a pale little child, so my mother lathered me in SPF 1,000 to

prevent even the tiniest sunburn, which was a failed effort. My brother and father didn’t need the

same treatment, with “tan” skin in comparison to my ghostly white, so they immediately went to

the water.

Jokes will be on them when they get skin cancer and I don’t.

My mom is the one of us who likes swimming the least, preferring to sit off to the side

and tan. She sent me away into the body of water, which felt like an ocean to me, the girl who

had only ever swam in the kiddy section at the public pool. My father and brother were out of

sight by then, but I was a big girl (4 '10” and 80 pounds), so I was confident that I could find

them myself.

The difference between river water and public swimming pools is glaringly obvious, yet,

in the eyes of an ignorant nine-year-old, nonexistent.

Because I am the next Albert Einstein, I chose to enter the river at the rapids, where

nobody was nearby to save my stupid ass. Since I weighed less than a leaf, the water jerked me

around like I was an inflatable tube man dancing in front of a car wash. I thought I was going to

die, beyond terrified. Looking back on it, though, I would pay good money to see my scrawny,

wussy self get abolished by a shallow river. It would be a morbidly hilarious sight.

Thankfully, my high-pitched screeches were heard by none other than my super-dad

himself, who saved me from certain death at the hands of harmless waves.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Ah, yes, my kind and gentle father I knew all too

well. His words were comforting after my near-death experience.

After the most traumatic event of my life, we swam on. My little brother must have been

even scrawnier than me by then, at just five years old. Now, he’s a six-foot-tall pre-teen beast,

but this was when he actually looked younger than me.

In my dad’s attempt to save my life, he accidentally let go of my kid brother, who didn’t

know how to swim yet. I remember him bouncing around in the water, giggling and smiling as

the current pulled him every which way. Then, about five feet behind him, I remember my dad

struggling through the rough waves to catch up with him. Seeing a grown, large man hopelessly

and aggressively chase after a tiny, careless child was quite funny to me, the actual danger my

brother was in was lost in the hilarity. My dad’s panic grew as Nolan was washed further and

further away from him, making me laugh harder and harder.

“Keira! Help me!” He called, and suddenly my childish giggles turned to cackles as I

looked ahead to see him stationary in the moving water, his foot jammed in between two rocks.

He couldn’t escape, and I watched as his attempt to loosen his leg made him fall forward,

hunched over and writhing in the water.

I remember, so vividly, that all I could think or say was, “You look like a turtle!”

Growing impatient with my passiveness, he began splashing in the water, doing

everything in his ability to free his leg, with no luck. He looked hopeless, panicking as his leg

stayed stuck. I looked further down the river to see my carefree brother, blissfully unaware of his

increasing risk of being swallowed and killed by the river.

Thankfully, but to my dissatisfaction, my dad was finally able to free himself, and he

immediately began rapidly swimming toward Nolan. I stood in place, paralyzed by laughing at

my father’s expense, unaware of the blazing sun burning into my skin as I sat.

Finally, dad reached Nolan and grabbed him, holding on tight as he swam back into

suitable waters. The current pushed him backward; every two feet he swam, he was thrown back

four. Since Nolan was safe and my dad was not hurt, my attention span dwindled, no longer

entertained by the comic sight.

I climbed out of the water, abandoning the boys and hoping that nothing funny would

happen while I was gone. The rocks I walked on were wet, but not too slick, and I kept a firm

stance as I walked toward my mother’s tanning spot.

“Hey-ey, you got nice titties,” was all I heard.

At nine, you don’t think about your mother’s “titties”. At seventeen, you don’t think

about them. Preferably, at any age past the breast milk diet, you wouldn’t be thinking about

them. However, not everybody is related to her. Moreover, not everybody is respectful. Instead,

old, creepy men exist, and they love my mom’s boobs.

I didn’t know that the gray, balding man was talking to my mother until I looked ahead,

seeing the disgust on her face. Then, the pieces were put together in my mind, and my expression

matched hers.

The man walked away without another word, to our pleasure, and my mom wordlessly

returned her attention to her book. I had never witnessed cat-calling before, but she had, now


Me, on the other hand? I was confused.

“Mommy, why was he talking to you?” I asked.

My mother sighed, “I don’t know.”

“But you’re not supposed to talk to strangers.”

A pause.

“Well, some strangers are just creepy fucking weirdos who can’t keep it in their pants.

Does that make sense?”

The conversation ended there because no, it didn’t make sense, but her language shocked

me into staying quiet.

Alas, I returned to the river. Not having learned from my previous mistake, I entered the

water alone, again. Unfortunately, this time I was safely and graciously accepted by the water,

and I began to swim back toward my father. He was stationary in the water, and I found myself

hoping that he was stuck yet again. Woefully, he was fine, as was my brother, sitting smiling in

his lap. My dad looked exhausted, just ten minutes of fun family time tiring him out.

At the sight of me, my dad perked up. “Hey, Nolan, why don’t you go play with your

mother?” My dad said, pointing to the spot where I had come from. Nolan jumped up, splashing

through the shallow water to run towards my mother. After seeing that my brother had reached

the shore safely, my dad turned to me, “want to go on an adventure?”

Of course, I said yes, and we swam on into the deeper water. The fiascos from earlier

should have taught us both not to swim away from the designated swimming hole, but if one

word could describe both my father and me, it would be “stupid”.

The deeper water wasn’t necessarily deep, because I could still easily stand on the ground

and keep my head above water. However, the rock underwater was jagged and sharp, forcing me

to swim, instead of walk. I was wholeheartedly expecting my father to get stuck again,

anticipating the comedy.

A wave. Rivers shouldn’t have waves like this, but we were in no ordinary river. My dad,

who was holding onto me to prevent me from getting washed away, let go. I turned around to see

him soaring backward, landing miles away from where we were. The humongous wave pushed

him to fall on his back, where he was dunked and trapped underwater.

I thought nothing could beat his leg getting stuck in an attempt to rescue his child, but

this. This topped every funny thing I had ever seen.

It is important to keep in mind just how large my father is. A ginormous man getting his

ass kicked by a river is significantly funnier than a regular-sized man receiving the same

treatment. When he splashed around to free himself from underwater, he looked like a giant bug

stuck on its back, cycling its legs to no avail.

I attempted to swim toward him, but he kept getting pushed further and further away

from me. He could have drowned, realistically, but the thought never crossed my mind as I was

too busy trying to contain my screams of laughter.

To make matters even better, he actually did get his leg stuck again. Instead of focusing

on un-wedging it, though, my dad was trying not to die. The waves kept splashing over him, his

leg keeping him in place as the rest of his body was attacked by the vicious current.

I finally reached him, despite my cries of laughter, but my tiny figure had nothing to give

that would save him. I don’t know the physics behind the 350-pound man being pulled by the

river and the 80-pound girl not, but I know that I am eternally grateful for Newton and

everything he did to grant me the most hilarious sight I have ever seen.

Eventually, the waves calmed and my dad freed his leg. I remember a, “why are you

laughing? I could have broken my leg!” scolding, but the rest of his words were blurred by my

own giggles. Dad isn’t a fan of laughing at someone else’s expense, mainly because it was his

expense that we typically laughed at.

Finally tired of being bested by a body of water, my dad dragged me to the shore to meet

with my mom and Nolan. “I think we’re about done,” he sighed, exhaustion and pain apparent in

his voice.

We packed up our belongings and said goodbye to Castor River.

“Hey, at least I made it out with no serious injuries! High five!”

It was like slow motion. Still standing on the wet rock, my dad turned towards me to

celebrate his victory. He began to raise his right hand, previously resting at his side. The velocity

of his hand being whipped quickly into the air must have caused him to lose his balance. I didn’t

lay a finger on him, but the next thing I knew, his legs had slipped out from under his body and

he crashed his back onto the ground.

“Jeez, Keira, you pushed him down!” My mom said; she heard what happened, but didn’t

see it. She didn’t know that I didn’t even get a chance to raise my hand before dad started falling.

Instead of defending myself, though, I, too, collapsed to the ground, crippled by laughter.

Sitting with my back exposed, body ridden with laughter, I began to feel my skin


“Shit, you’re burnt!”

No amount of SPF can beat the Irish curse.

Begrudgingly, my family made our way back to the car. Reflecting on our trip, I realized

that Nolan was the only one of us to make it out of that Hellish river in one piece. I was

sunburned, my mother was harassed, and my dad’s dignity was long gone. Nolan, though,

seemed fine. Despite nearly dying, he had a blast at Castor River. He’s always been a water bug,

but when misfortune strikes the entire family, as long as water is near, he’ll be just fine.


I turned around. There, behind me, was my brother, sitting on the ground in an especially

muddy puddle on the ground. My mom and dad stood behind him, both biting their tongues in an

attempt not to laugh. Nolan was holding all of our towels, but he was too naive to know not to

run through the wet mud. He fell on his ass, our towels soaked in the puddle, and looked up at us,

hopelessly, as if he had no idea what to do next.

Breaking the silence, my dad burst out laughing.


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